It really was great to talk with you guys on Christmas. Don't worry, it didn't make me homesick. More than anything, it just made me reflect over the experiences I've had so far on my mission and helped me see the type of person I've become and the type of person I'm still yet to be. I have some kinks to work out, but overall I'm satisfied with my progress as a person, the depth of my testimony, the miracles I have witnessed, the friends I have made, and the privilege it has been to be a servant of the Lord. I want my life to be productive - I want to spend my days contributing, sharing, helping, lifting, inspiring, and blessing. There is always work to be done, and I want to do it. I hope you guys do, too. Spencer W. Kimball said, "Peace be with you. May you find every home to which you return a real Latter-day Saint home with all the gospel in it." I want all the gospel to be in every home I go to, especially ours. =)
Alright, so I didn't get to tell you a lot about the week before last, so I'll give you a summary. We went on 3 exchanges in 3 days. By the morning of the 4th day Elder Bartlett and I were EXHAUSTED. The first exchange was with the Cranberry Elders, Elders Gassman and Palmer. Elder Young (my min-missionary companion from Uniontown) lives in Cranberry. He leaves on his mission in February. He found out they were going on exchange with me and so he sent a giant Captain America cardboard-cutout along with them. It's in our workout room. Every time I work out I look at Captain America and I go, "THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO BE!!! GGGRRRRRR!!!" haha. Elder Gassman and I had a great lesson with Jamal. At the end of the night we ended up tracting this pocket of houses in the middle of the woods. There were only 5 and they were HUGE. They were the biggest houses I've ever seen in my life. One had a giant driveway that wrapped through the woods. The trees had lights built into them. They had a BMW, a Jaguar, a Corvette, and a Mercedes. They had fountains and rivers and statues and their family name in stone. It was crazy. They had a big glass and wood front door and had a lot of guests over - apparently a rich Christmas party rife with champagne. One of the guests inside, after we knocked, proclaimed, "Hey! Look everyone! I think we got the Mormons at the door!" Pointing to me, he said, "Look at that cold one! It looks like he's holding a Book of Mormon!" Everyone laughed. I felt like I knocked on the great and spacious building. But the host answered and surprisingly he was really nice and receptive and asked for a copy of the book, (hopefully not to use as a White Elephant Gift) and wished us a merry Christmas. It was crazy.
The second exchange was with the Wintersville, Ohio elders, Elders Rudd and Barker. I went with Elder Barker and we thought up a protein supplement called "Super Jacked PM" that we're going to create and sell when we go home. "Have you ever wanted to work out all day everyday and all through the night but couldn't because you had to sleep? Now you can! SUPER JACKED PM! GET SUPER JACKED IN THE PM!" We decided we're going to get Billy Mayes to do the commercial. It'll be a hit. We also had an interesting experience at Chik-Fil-A during lunch. Elder Barker ran out of sauce. He said, "I need to go get more sauce." And this worker jumped out of nowhere with 6 packets of sauce in his hand and said, "DID SOMEBODY SAY SAUCE?!" He was super black and did it in a super black voice. It was hilarious. We started talking to him some more and found out he only worked there part time. It wasn't nearly as good as his other job - being a stripper at the "Chocolate Factory." That conversation took a very awkward turn VERY quickly. He said, "I mean, I like my job, but sometimes it gets cold in the winter." Definitely the funniest thing that's happened to me on my mission. Anyway, we had a good experience. We met this one lady who, at first, sounded like she was going to bash us. And she did, only it wasn't about how bad we suck. She just forcefully told us how great Mormons are and how everyone in society needs to be more like us - how our families are successful, we are productive, we are happy, we produce beautiful music and literature, and (she being a Romney supporter) apparently should be running the country. It was a pleasant surprise. She said we could come back but she wasn't going to be a Mormon. Why wouldn't she be a Mormon after giving such a great review of our history, culture, heritage, hierarchy, and happiness? Beats me.
The last exchange was with Elder Kartchner and Elder Leavitt. I went with Kartchner. We got hit with a CRAZY snow storm and tracted in the snow for 8 hours. It was depressing and everyone was mean. But Kartch and I had a good time catching up. That was the most time I've gotten to spend with him in a year and a half.
Anyway, that was last week. Tatiana also came home from school and we started teaching her the lessons again. We set things up for baptism the next Saturday.
Christmas Eve was spent cleaning and reading letters and emailing and drinking hot cocoa and trying to eat the billion pounds of candy we'd been given. We made a billion cookies and went around and delivered a lot of them. At 5:30 PM the Taylor family had us over. I love them! They both served missions. He taught in the MTC for a long time and wrote the "Listening" section in chapter 10 of Preach My Gospel. He's a great guy. Anyway, they had their neighbors over as well who are grandma and grandpa Doty's age. We had a very nice evening with them. Brother Taylor let his neighbors know that I played the piano, and the couple wanted me to play them some Christmas carols. So I played two or three for them. Then we suggested that we read Luke chapter 2 and the account of the wise men bringing gifts to the Christ child in Matthew. We had a great lesson about the Birth of the Savior and afterwards the older lady said with tears in her eyes, "Boys, thank you so much. You two are the finest boys I've ever met. Tonight was so special. We haven't read the Christmas story from the bible in years. Can we hug you?" They gave us big hugs. We all said a prayer together and then the Taylors gave us Christmas presents. They are so awesome! Wal-mart gift cards and german chocolate bars and socks! It was a sweet deal.
Then we went over to Nick and Jess's place. Jess helped us make cookies. They were going to go around and deliver them with us but Nick was getting over a bad cold so they stayed in. But we read the Christmas story with them and dropped off a copy of Mr. Krueger's Christmas. Mormon Cinema Classic! Gotta love the creative genius of Michael McLean and Jimmy Stewart. We delivered cookies to Dave the wrestling coach and his wife. He invited us in but we couldn't stay because we had a ton of cookies to deliver. He said, "Really? These are for us? You made them? Nobody does this sort of thing anymore!" We said they were just for them. He said, "YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!" and gave us a big thumbs up as we drove away. I love him! haha. We also dropped off cookies to the Cardenas family, Sister Mosey, Susan and Tom, and others. It was a good way to spend the night.
Christmas morning we opened presents at 6:30 AM. Then we had studies and stuff. Then we went to the Sunrise Assisted Living place and sang with the ward choir for all the old people. We got there a little early and got bored, and that's when we accidentally broke into the mall and almost got into big trouble. I think I told you that story. Then we dropped off cookies to Brother Stott, a single brother in the ward, and he took us to visit a friend of his whom the missionaries used to visit. His friend had a severe stroke and heart attack years back and cracked his head as he fell down. He had suffered some serious brain damage and had to have 1/3 of his skull removed and had been in a care home ever since. We went and spent some time with him. He was happy to see missionaries again. Then we called you guys from the office and that was good. Then we played scrabble and had dinner with Justin and Michelle. Elder Jones scored 32 points on the word "Qi" - an obscure spelling of the Chinese "Chi." We checked the Scrabble dictionary and sure enough it was a word. Ridiculous! This was coming from Elder Jones who was playing imaginary words like "Yunn" and "Qod." We let him start playing acronyms like CIA and CD because he was having such a hard time! So funny! Elder Rivas kept spelling Spanish words. I wish I could have filmed it. It was the most hilarious game of scrabble I've ever played. Elder Bartlett won with 123 points and I took second with 101.
Then we visited the Kraft family and took them cookies. They let us play a game called "suspend." It's like the reverse of Jenga. Instead of taking as many pieces away from the tower as you can without it falling, you have to add magnetic hanging pieces. It was great. We had a good time. Then we went to Bishop Bushman's house and spent time with his family, the Hollists, their friend Tyriek, and the Reiks. The Bishop's son, Ted, is a musical theatre major at BYU and has an incredible voice. Whenever he's in town Sister Bushman makes us sing duets together. haha. So we were forced to do 4 or 5 songs. People liked it. We worked on an epic dragon puzzle for about an hour and then we went home. It was a good Christmas.
We had a good lesson with Nick and Jess on Wednesday morning. There was a terrible snowstorm and it took us an hour to get to their house. We parked the car at the local pharmacy and walked to Mason's house. We had an awesome lesson on the 10 commandments and he prayed aloud for the first time! We were super proud of him. He's doing a great job and he's been getting some great revelation for his life. He loves the Gift of the Holy Ghost, especially since he knows how to use it now. He's been living the word of wisdom and he says that's been helping.
We had the most epic lesson with Jamal. We introduced our topic - the afterlife - and he said, "Hold up. So I be thinkin', and I want ya'll to tell me whatcha'll think. So, yesterday, people be tellin' me that iss jus heaven and hell. I told them no way. There's too many diffrent types of people! Iss not that simple. God is a Just God, and so I be thinkin' that there be like, layers for real. Like, this life is college, and we're decidin what type of degree we're gonna get and what spot we're gonna hold in the kingdom! Depending on how well we do, we get diffrent levels!" We raised our eyebrows and said, "Jamal, you did it again." And he said, "GET OUT! MORMONS BELIEVE THAT TOO! THAT'S SO SICK!" We laughed. The loved the three degrees of glory. He said, "I WAS RIGHT! I TOLD THEM! Then again, they be hatin' on all this mormon stuff anyways, you know. They just gotta throw off all their preconceived notions and misconceptions, disregard the label, and take the troof for what it is." It was a solid lesson. He was asking some awesome questions. Afterwards we helped him shovel his stairs and sidewalk. He just stood there because he only had two shovels, but after awhile he said, "Look here, elders. I be tryin' to make it to the celestial, too! Let me take a turn!" I told him he didn't have to. We could do the work and he could take credit for it. He said, "Elder Collier, that type of thinkin's gonna send me to the telestial! C'mon now!" Jamal is SO COOL!
We picked up the Dormont Elders and had dinner with the Landry family. They recently moved in from New Mexico. We had turkey and stuff. It was delicious. Then we went to "Book of Mormon Class." Nobody came but Dave, who is getting baptized into the 6th ward next Saturday. So we just answered his questions. 6 elders and Dave. haha! He wanted us to be honest with him and answer him like 20 year old mormon guys instead of missionaries. He said, "So, I'm nervous about going off to med school as a Mormon. Is it tough living the standards? Do they have like student wards and stuff? How do I meet girls? What's it going to be like?" Dave is such a great guy. He's dead-set on the Book of Mormon being true and he's planning his life around it. He's really intelligent and is going to be an anesthesiologist. Elder Jones had an awkward moment at the end of the lesson. Dave is Asian, and he had just gotten done telling us about how hard it can be to be asian in Pennsylvania because people are stereotypical. Elder Jones said, "So, do you speak...uh... asian?" And Dave said, "That's exactly the type of thing I was just talking about." Elder Jones got all nervous, so he put his foot in his mouth and said, "That's not what I meant. I meant do you speak Chinese!" And Dave said, "Dude. I'm Korean. And no. I told you. I was adopted when I was a baby." It was so funny! We all laughed so hard and Elder Jones was super embarrassed. Elder Rivas must not have been understanding all the English we were speaking because once we all stopped laughing and there was silence he said, "So, Dave. Do you speak Korean?" Elder Jones and Elder Rivas are the funniest companionship in the mission. Its like having Fez from That 70's Show and Andy from the Office together as a team. I've had so much fun with them!
Thursday we had district meeting, then we went to lunch at wendy's. Then we met with President to discuss the departing missionaries (they were leaving on Monday of week 6 instead of Wednesday of Week 1 because they had to get back before school started). Then we went tracting and then we had an awesome wrap-up lesson with Tatiana and Graham (one of the Priests). He came with us to teach. Luis and Esthela sat in on the lesson as well and both bore their testimonies. I gave Tatiana and Esthela scriptures and I ordered a military sized Book of Mormon and Hymn Book for Jose. I also got a spanish Hymn Book for Luis and Guille. They all loved their Christmas presents.
The Krafts had us over for dinner that night. They're such an awesome family! You guys would get along great with them. They had just seen the Hobbit the night before and they absolutely loved it. Poor Elder Bartlett was lost - he knows nothing about Lord of the Rings and we were all geeking out about it. It was great. We had a lesson about being an instrument in the Lord's hand after the meal and they agreed to come to Tatiana's baptism to support her and to bring cookies. Such a great family. Always willing to help.
Friday we weekly planned and then we went tracting. We met this cool girl named Sarah. She was shoveling her walk. We gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and she heard us out. She ultimately wasn't interested, but invited us in and gave us hot cocoa. As it turns out, I had given her younger brother a Book of Mormon 2 months ago when I met him on the street. Small world! After that we visited some other people. Then we had dinner with Elders Nelson and Coleman from the 6th ward at Chipotle. Then I went with Elder Nelson and I interviewed Melissa for baptism. Her husband, Russ, got baptized 2 months ago but she was working on quitting smoking. She finally did it. She was so ready to go. It was a really good experience. Then we high-tailed it back to the church so I could be there for Tatiana's interview. She passed! It was great. Esthela knew exactly where to take her in the church to find baptismal clothes and she helped her try stuff on and find a dress she liked. We didn't really have to do much. Esthela took care of it like a professional.
We woke up at 5 AM the next morning so we could trek through the snow to the chapel. Got hit with another bad snowstorm. We made it there by 7 AM to fill the font. Then we picked up Jones and Rivas and got some bagels from Einstein Bagels. Then we started getting calls and texts from people. People who were snowed in. People who were supposed to be doing things on the program like playing the piano, conducting the service, bringing the programs, or getting baptized! We grabbed the snow shovels from the church and we went and dug people out. When we got to Tatiana's house, her dad Luis was out shoveling. He looked exhausted. They have a brick alley that leads to a parking spot, and snow plows couldn't get back there. We came around the corner with shovels and he looked up and went, "OH MY GOSH! GRACIAS! GRACIAS! Hay mucha nieve." (Thanks so much! there's a lot of snow!) He was in his church clothes and we were in our suits shoveling. It was really cool. We got things cleared up in about 20 minutes. It would've taken him at least an hour.
Eventually everyone made it to the church. The baptismal service got started a little late, but everyone was there and everyone was safe. Sister Topham was supposed to play the piano but she got sick, so I had to play. The Kraft's daughter helped conduct. It went well. Tatiana was so excited! Luis was nervous, but he did a great job baptizing her. He said all the words perfectly. The only problem was, Tatiana kept sticking a hand or a foot out of the water every time she went down. haha! So she had to do it 3 times. The last time Luis made sure to shove her way down into the water. Guille was teasing Jose, her son. "She beating you!" she said. Jose had to be baptized twice. Tatiana holds the high score in the family! It was a great occasion. There was TONS of food and everyone stuck around to socialize. Esthela and Jose had said prayers during the service, and both of them asked Heavenly Father to help their family get sealed next year. I love them all so much!
Jamal had us over after that. We helped him shovel snow again and then had a great lesson on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He already knew what repentance was and gave an excellent description of faith. He says some really profound things in lessons. I need to start writing more of them down. He really understands the gospel principles. I guess that's what happens when you be thinkin'!
Caroline came with us to Tori and TJ's that afternoon. Tori is ready to be baptized. We just need to set a day and she'll go for it. TJ wants to wait a little longer which is totally okay. Tori has been reading so much on her own. The lesson was on the ten commandments, the sabbath day, and not dating until you're 16 (the simplified form of the law of chastity. haha). Their family has come a long way and they're happy. Brother Miller, who is a convert, said, "I've noticed such a change in my family. Family is the reason why I wanted to be a mormon. I wanted the types of families that they had, since I never had one like that. Now I'm finally starting to have that family."
We went to Melissa's baptism at 6. Her husband has some back problems so he wasn't able to baptize her (Elder Nelson did) but he got to be one of the witnesses! He was all dressed up and looking sharp (which is a big step for Russ because he used to be a biker. In fact, he and Melissa just won a pool tournament last weekend! haha). The program went off without a hitch. It was great. Then Nick and Jess had us and the Dormont elders over for dinner. We had spaghetti and meatballs. Nick told us that he got bored one day and watched Mr. Krueger's Christmas. He said it was the creepiest thing he'd ever seen. Agreed! That's what makes it great! =D We watched "You Matter to Him" by President Uchtdorf. Such a good talk.
Church was crazy. I was asked last minute to conduct the hymns. Me and the Kraft girl switched roles from the day before - she was on the organ and I was conducting. Unfortunately, the first hymn was "I Believe in Christ" which is like an hour long. Then I had to confirm Tatiana. Then after that we sang "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" which is also like an hour long. My arm was so sore! But the confirmation was great, the talks were good, and the Spirit was strong. We had a lot of people at church visiting. Good experience. A girl named Kahli (kay-lee) from the 4th Ward brought her friend to our ward. Her friend lives in our ward boundaries. Her name is Maggie. Kahli joined the church last May and is like the best member missionary ever. Elder Bartlett was teaching her family before he got transferred here. Anyway, we had a pretty deep lesson on the millennium in gospel principles class. Luckily we were able to clear things up after the meeting. =D Then we had the combined 5th sunday lesson. Our ward mission leader was supposed to teach it............. but he wasn't there. And we didn't realize it until the last second. SO suddenly Elder Bartlett and I had to teach since it was missionary Sunday. We were scrambling. Us, the Elder's Quorum Presidency and the High Priest Group Leader huddled up in the hallway and we came up with a game plan. Elder Bartlett and I explained our Zone Conference training on the Rescue and we decided to do that. So we taught Zone Conference again. It went wonderful! After we were done we asked Brother Reik to share his conversion story, which is epic. He's only been a member for 3 years but I'm telling you, he's gonna be the next prophet. He's sealed in the temple, just had his second son, is super intelligent, is from New York, and he owns his own cookie factory. Coolest guy ever. Anyway, the Spirit was really strong. After the meeting we got lots of compliments. As we were talking to people and setting up appointments for the week, Maggie said to Elder Bartlett, "So... I go back to college on the 15th. But I'm free until then. Is there any way that you guys could like, come over and teach me about the Book of Mormon? I'm really interested." Elder Bartlett said no way.
Just kidding! Of course we said yes! We're meeting with her later on this week. How exciting! We knew that all our tracting was going to pay off! haha. The Lord blesses you with people to teach in one way or the other, as long as you put in the effort. We visited a cool family, the Exler family, after church. They have 7 kids. She joined the church 4 years ago and just recently moved into the ward. She hasn't been very active since the move, but when we came over she had her scriptures out and was taking notes in her notebook. We had a really great conversation. She's so solid. She has 2 of her sons that she wants us to start teaching so they can be baptized and they want to be taught as well. We will see where that goes!
We ended up going over to Uncle Mike's house to help him shovel his walk. We also did Melissa's walk and the stairs for Uncle Mike's neighbor. He fed us "family style" lasagna in return. Then we went to the mission home to visit with the departing missionaries. We found out that President Topham needed the trailer and van set up so he could take people to the airport. Normally we know ahead of time, but it was last minute so we were scrambling. by the time we got to the storage unit it was closed for the night and we couldn't get the van. So we had to come up with another plan. That plan included us waking up at 3:45 AM this morning so we could get one of the Chevy Colorados (mission trucks), load it up with all of the luggage, and caravan to the airport and drop the departing missionaries off by 6:00 AM. Crazy.
After we finalized our plan, we had a great lesson with Brother Trout. He's doing a lot better. Having a hard time but he just needs people to listen to him. He's had a hard life.
This morning I woke up at 3:45 AM and I gained an added element of my testimony: I now know for myself that waking up that early is a bad idea. Don't do it. Ever.
Anyway, we said goodbye to Elder Copeland, Berkheimer, Swensen, Broadbent, and Sister Mortensen. I was on the Zone Leader Council with Elders Swensen and Berkheimer, and I flew out with Sister Mortensen, so it was another strange goodbye. We got back to the mission home at 6 AM and slept for a half hour. Then we got up, worked out, started our laundry, did studies, and now I'm here. We have all day P-Day today since we have to by in by 6 PM (since it's new year's.) So it should be good. At some point I gotta get some sleep.
Well, that's my life!